NEW DELHI, December 8, 2011
The Hindu by Vinaya Deshpande
Military Intelligence paid hundreds of crores of rupees for outdated software, documents obtained by The Hindu show
The Indian Army's imagery interpretation capabilities, critical to providing information on the locations of enemy troops and their military assets, have been compromised by flawed contracts placed with a company that has failed to provide critical software upgrades, an investigation by The Hindu has found.
Documents obtained by The Hindu from the Ministry of Defence show that the firm responsible for supplying and integrating software used in critical image intelligence analysis was relieved of its responsibility to provide free upgrades in 2008 — and is now on the verge of receiving a Rs.165-crore contract for the supply of software it may no longer have licensing rights for.
MI17 — the super-secret military intelligence department that analyses data provided by India's spy satellites — relies on software provided by global software giants Intergraph, Oracle, and Bentley.
Rolta, an Indian company, supplied photogrammetry and geographical information system software licensed from these firms to the Army in 1996, integrating them into a single package to meet MI17's specific needs. From then to 2008, things went well — when a new contract for 14 photogrammetry and geographical information system packages came up to be signed.
The earlier contract bound Rolta to provide software “updates and upgrades” free of cost, as part of a maintenance contract. In 2008, though, the phrasing was changed to just “updates”— freeing Rolta of the obligation to provide the most recent software released by the original equipment manufacturer.
Rolta was paid Rs.506.45 crore for equipment purchased between 1998 and 2008. In addition, it received annual maintenance contracts for equipment purchased during this period; as of December 2008, their cumulative value was Rs. 40.66 crore per annum.
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Poorly conceived procedures
Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, Director of the National Maritime Foundation and a former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said the problem lay in poorly conceived bureaucratic procedures put in place after the Bofors scandal, which was exposed by The Hindu in 1987-1988.
“If the armed forces buy a lemon,” he explained, “it is obviously either because of incompetence or corruption. Now, though the post-Bofors system is ostensibly designed to prevent malpractices, in fact privileges incompetence and thus opens the floodgates to corruption.”
“What we really need is to create a cadre of young officers who are competent to make the kinds of highly technical judgments military acquisitions need today, not committees of bureaucrats with no specialist judgment,” he said. “Task force after task force have made thoughtful, well-considered recommendations to reform the defence acquisition system.”
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